It was both a passing and a passing of the torch. Two thirds of the way through last Saturday's Tour de France time trial into Chartres, 23-year-old Tejay van Garderen blew by his BMC teammate, defending Tour champion Cadel Evans. Evans, suffering from stomach issues, finished seventh on Sunday, yielding his title to Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins, the Tour's first British victor.
Finishing four spots behind Wiggins was van Garderen, who earned the maillot blanc, awarded to the Tour's best young rider. That marked him as America's best hope to win La Grande Boucle, perhaps two or three years down the road. Van Garderen's role coming into the Tour was to shepherd Evans through the mountains—keeping the boss out of the wind, setting tempo, chasing breakaways, fetching water—but it was apparent early in the race that the apprentice had more game than the master. TVG, who grew up in Bozeman, Mont., was faster than Evans in all three time trials and stronger in the mountains, tapping the brakes every so often to avoid dropping the boss. When the Aussie imploded again in the Pyrenees in stage 16, BMC director John Lelangue told van Garderen to ride his own race. The team had lost the yellow jersey—it didn't want to lose the white one too.
Van Garderen's was the top finish by an American since Lance Armstrong took third in 2009. His emergence, along with other young riders such as Taylor Phinney and Andrew Talansky, represents a changing of the guard in U.S. cycling—and a bright future. As van Garderen proved in France, he can climb and time-trial with anyone in the world. And that's the thing about the Tour's best young rider. He often becomes the best rider, period.